When Barry Nalls graduated from Decatur High School in 1971, he left town the same day – with everything he owned in the back seat of a Mustang he bought from James Wood.
He returned Tuesday to speak to the February luncheon of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce about business.
In the intervening years, Nalls spent more than two decades working for GTE before embarking on a career as an entrepreneur. Since then he has started, sold and shut down several companies, become the subject of a Harvard Business School case study, and founded an expense-management company that now counts the City of Decatur among its clients.
Speaking at the Civic Center, Nalls tressed the importance of “brand.”
“You’re part of an organization that has a brand,” he said. “That boils down to another word: ‘promise.’ Figure out your brand, your promise – what you deliver to your customers.”
Nall encouraged the business people in the audience to sit down with their customers – not at lunch, but in their offices – and ask them “How can I do better? How can I improve?”
He cited the examples of Nike and Apple as companies that have a brand, a reputation for delivering on their promises.
“What was Enron’s promise?” he asked. “Nobody remembers. It doesn’t matter – they broke it, and they’re no longer in business. When you make a promise to your customer, you cannot break that promise, ever!”
After founding MASERGY, a telecom company grew to have clients in 50 countries and $100 million in annual sales, Nalls sold it several years ago and created VYBRANZ – a privately-held global expense management company that provides cost reduction solutions to make all kinds of companies more profitable.
VYBRANZ specializes in helping customers control operating costs, create cash flow and achieve meaningful cost reductions.
“We are a full-service expense management, cost reduction, and billing auditing company,” he said.
A few years ago, Nalls was the subject of a Harvard Business School case study by Noam Wasserman and Rachel Galper titled, “Big to Small: The Two Lives of Barry Nalls.”
The 23-page study focuses on Nalls’ rise at GTE and shorter-lived ventures, and how these prepared him to found MASERGY.
“Even as a young boy in a family of entrepreneurs, Nalls had a reputation as a hard worker,” the study’s description said. “But instead of becoming an entrepreneur himself, he built a long career at ‘the biggest company around,’ GTE. After years of working there in sales and marketing, he decided to venture out on his own. His GTE experiences armed him for some entrepreneurial challenges.”
And, all agreed, equipped him to inform and inspire the business leaders of Decatur.